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Prizes for basic research: Human capital, economic might and the shadow of history


  • Joshua Aizenman


  • Ilan Noy



This paper studies the impact of global factors on patterns of basic research across countries and time. We rely on the records of major scientific awards, and on data dealing with global economic and historical trends. Specifically, we investigate the degree to which scale or threshold effects account for countries share of major prizes [Nobel, Fields, Kyoto and Wolf]. We construct a stylized model, predicting that lagged relative GDP of a country relative to the GDP of all countries engaging in basic research is an important explanatory variable of country's share of prizes. Scale effects imply that the association between the GDP share of a country and its prize share tends to be logistic -- above a threshold, there is a "take off" range, where the prize share increases at an accelerating rate with the relative GDP share of the country, until it reaches "maturity" stage. Our empirical analysis confirms the importance of lagged relative GDP in accounting for countries' prize shares, and the presence of "winner takes all" scale effect benefiting the leader. Using measures of casualties during the wars, we find that the only significant effect can be found for a lag of 3 decades – i.e., deaths in the war negatively impact the viability of basic research about 30 years after the fact. With more recent data, we document the growing importance of countries that used to be at the periphery of global research, possibly advancing towards the take off stage.
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Suggested Citation

  • Joshua Aizenman & Ilan Noy, 2007. "Prizes for basic research: Human capital, economic might and the shadow of history," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 12(3), pages 261-282, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:jecgro:v:12:y:2007:i:3:p:261-282 DOI: 10.1007/s10887-007-9018-y

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Salter, Ammon J. & Martin, Ben R., 2001. "The economic benefits of publicly funded basic research: a critical review," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 30(3), pages 509-532, March.
    2. Andrew K. Rose, 2006. "Size Really Doesn't Matter: In Search of a National Scale Effect," NBER Working Papers 12191, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    4. Paul Krugman, 1991. "History versus Expectations," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 106(2), pages 651-667.
    5. Rose, Andrew K., 2006. "Size really doesn't matter: In search of a national scale effect," Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, Elsevier, vol. 20(4), pages 482-507, December.
    6. Stephen S. Everhart & Mariusz A. Sumlinski, 2001. "Trends in Private Investment in Developing Countries : Statistics for 1970-2000 and the Impact on Private Investment of Corruption and the Quality of Public Investment," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 13989.
    7. Benjamin F. Jones, 2005. "Age and Great Invention," NBER Working Papers 11359, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Bruce A. Weinberg & David W. Galenson, 2005. "Creative Careers: The Life Cycles of Nobel Laureates in Economics," NBER Working Papers 11799, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Paul A. David, 2007. "Path Dependence, its Critics, and the Quest for ‘Historical Economics’," Chapters,in: The Evolution of Economic Institutions, chapter 7 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    10. Lucas, Robert Jr, 1976. "Econometric policy evaluation: A critique," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 19-46, January.
    11. Andrew B. Bernard & Meghan R. Busse, 2004. "Who Wins the Olympic Games: Economic Resources and Medal Totals," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 86(1), pages 413-417, February.
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    13. Gary S. Becker, 1975. "Human Capital: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis, with Special Reference to Education, Second Edition," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number beck75-1, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Maria Rosaria Carillo & Erasmo Papagni, 2013. "Is the ‘Globalization’ of Science Always Good for Scientific Productivity and Economic Growth?," Metroeconomica, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 64(4), pages 607-644, November.
    2. Dailami, Mansoor & Kurlat, Sergio & Lim, Jamus Jerome, 2012. "Bilateral M&A activity from the Global South," The North American Journal of Economics and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 23(3), pages 345-364.
    3. Maria Rosaria Carillo & Erasmo Papagni & Fabian Capitanio, 2008. "Effects of social interactions on scientists' productivity," International Journal of Manpower, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 29(3), pages 263-279, June.
    4. Maria Rosaria Carillo & Erasmo Papagni, 2006. "Social Rewards in Science and Economic Growth," Discussion Papers 10_2006, D.E.S. (Department of Economic Studies), University of Naples "Parthenope", Italy.

    More about this item


    Global economic trends; Basic research; Human capital; Winner-takes-all; F15; F21; O3; N4;

    JEL classification:

    • F15 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Economic Integration
    • F21 - International Economics - - International Factor Movements and International Business - - - International Investment; Long-Term Capital Movements
    • O3 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights
    • N4 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation


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